What I love about “Love Actually”

I don’t usually go out of my way to watch Christmas movies or specials.

Except one.

I wasn’t watching “Sunday Night Football,” but the rest of my Sunday night would have been set regardless.

Lindy West’s review of “Love Actually” is one of the more savage takedowns I’ve ever seen, and as much as I love the movie, I can’t dismiss everything she writes out of hand.

The women really don’t talk all that much, do they?

It probably would make more sense for Sam to talk to his school crush Joanna.

And Natalie, who works in the prime minister’s office, is about as far from “chubby” as it gets.

And yes, there’s that scene. (We’ll get to that one later.)

So I get it, I really do … certainly more than I get the arguments that “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie.

But I can’t help myself. I love “Love Actually.”

(By the way, speaking of savage takedowns, I’m not even a fan of Mike Pesca’s, but when I first hear it, all I could do was admire the viciousness of his review of Ali Velshi’s “Gimme My Money Back: Your Guide to Beating the Finanical Crisis.” It’s about 16 minutes into this “Planet Money” podcast.)

So why do I love it?

Well, it doesn’t hurt a movie to have a cast that includes Hugh Grant in what I call his “peak Hugh” period from roughly “Four Weddings and a Funeral” to “Music and Lyrics” (your parameters may vary), Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Keira Knightley, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson and Alan Rickman.

And there were a few other people you probably hadn’t heard of them, but are probably aware of now — Chiwetel Ejiofor, January Jones and Martin Freeman among them.

But if a big-name cast was enough to make something great, the nicest thing we’d be saying about “The Romanoffs” wouldn’t be that it was Matthew Weiner’s huge post-“Mad Men” swing that didn’t quite connect, or that it was “more fun to think about than it is to watch.”

So it must be something else.

“Love Actually” is a romantic comedy; therefore, you can probably assume a lot of happily ever after. (Just so you know, if anything I’m about to write spoils the movie … it came out in 2003, so you had your chance.)

It’s not a stretch to know that Grant’s prime minister is going to fall in love with Martine McCutcheon’s Natalie, who let me say again … is not chubby.

Of course Firth’s Jamie is going to wind up head over heels for Lucia Moniz’s Aurelia, the young woman sent to his house to help him during his writing sojourn, even though they don’t speak each other’s language.

Sure, Nighy’s Billy Mack has done a wonderful job throwing away his career and hates his “Christmas Is All Around” comeback vehicle, but did anyone who saw the movie NOT expect it to be the Christmas No. 1?

I could go on, but the thing “Love Actually” does, even where the situation is obvious and/or implausible, is make you care about the characters. For two hours, what happens to them doesn’t just entertain you; it matters to you.

Your heart lifts when Linney’s Sarah finally gets together with office love interest Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), and it breaks just as fast when she’s called away to take care of her mentally ill brother. (By the way, Karl, don’t ditch her forever because her brother may interrupt your nights together. Be a better dude than that.)

It even applies when characters are doing bad things.

When Rickman’s Harry is clearly going to cheat on his wife Karen (Thompson) with his secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch), you just want to yell at the screen, “DON’T DO IT!!!! DON’T BE STUPID!!!!!”

However, when Harry is buying the necklace for Mia and jewelry salesman Rufus (Atkinson) is fussing about packing it and you know Karen will be back any moment, you’re sucked into whether he actually gets busted or not.

Even as you know he’s being stupid.

So anyway, about that scene.

Were “Love Actually” a suspense movie, a horror movie or, sadly, real life, Mark’s (Andrew Lincoln) obsession with his best friend Peter’s (Ejiofor) wife Juliet (Knightley) would probably have a darker, if not tragic, ending.

Seriously, it’s somewhere between creepy and you-might-want-to-call-the-cops-on-this-guy (or tell your husband).

But since it’s not that kind of movie, Mark gets to make one final grand gesture, clearly get forgiven by Juliet for what he has done and walk away.

And as he walks away, he says, “Enough. Enough now.”

In that moment, you hope he finally gets it.

Because you care about the characters, even though the relationship won’t last beyond the credits.


14 thoughts on “What I love about “Love Actually”

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